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The hidden potential in lying comfort

Tommy Wollesen for Progressive Dairyman Published on 30 April 2019

When I am traveling in Canada, I see a lot of nice barns that have been built; I see how the farmers focus on their cows to get the best out of them. As a foreigner, I see many good things in the Canadian way.

As I work with improving cow comfort every day, around the globe, I find there is always a hidden potential.

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The hidden potential

In modern barns, much is measured and little is hidden. However, when I talk about a hidden potential, it is because most of us do not notice if cows spend three minutes, less or more lying down. Three minutes alone is not much, but if you have 300 cows who go in and out of stalls 10 to 15 times every 24 hours, it adds up. In fact, those three minutes become 68,537.5 hours annually in a 300-cow barn. As a rule of thumb, one hour extra lying time means 1 kilogram more milk; for an entire year, that translates into 68,537.5 kilograms more milk. With a milk price of 60 cents, this means a potential of $41,062.40 extra profit.

The size of this potential is an eye-opener to most people I meet. But milk is one thing. How much money are we talking about every time we lower the cull rate 1 percent? Also, if cows are more relaxed and in better shape, they show better heat. Increasing the lying time of cows should be a focus for reasons like these.

Lying down without pain is critical

It is important to choose the right bedding for your cows. The right bedding will increase the lying time of cows and, with that, milk yield and longevity. Research has documented decreasing bedding reduces the lying times of cows. The most critical part of the bedding is the upper part, which must be capable of accommodating the pressure from the cow’s knees as it lies down. An extreme amount of bodyweight is put on a small area (two knees) as the cow swings its head forward. Too often, mattresses or other bedding do not distribute bodyweight in an optimum way.

There are two signs that show if weight is not distributed correctly – one is knee injuries; the other is lameness. If cows have these two problems, it is likely their weight is not absorbed sufficiently on their mattresses. Alternatively, the feeding fence could be the cause of their problems.

There are several side effects more critical than the knee injury itself. Cull rate increases, and milk production decreases. Cows with injuries do not get to the feeding table 10 to 15 times a day as they should, and this affects their welfare. You can see in their eyes and ears that they are in pain. Measuring how often cows move around is also indicative of pain. Cows afraid to lie down or get up because it hurts are not content; they move around too little and stand up too much.

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The ideal slope of your bedding

Years back, professors in a very old research centre in Denmark tested the best lying position of a cow. The test showed cows lying on a slope of 3.5 to 4.5 percent rested more correctly and longer than other cows. To reach this slope, many new barns are built with a gradient in the concrete.

With sand bedding, the right slope of approximately 4 percent is achieved simply by placing more sand in the upper part of the stall. Sand is great bedding for cows, but it needs to be maintained and is not an option in all barns.

Where to start

If you are considering an investment in new bedding, you should start asking yourself: Why do I want new bedding? If it is because too many cows have problems with wounds on sho sulders and knees, the first place to look is your stalls. Do they fit for the cows? Most cows’ problems with knees and shoulders lead back to problems with wrongly bent steel stalls.  end mark

Tommy Wollesen
  • Tommy Wollesen

  • Chief Sales and Chief Developer
  • Cow-Welfare

This is what I look for when I test a cow mattress

  1. I jump down on it with my knees first, and this must not hurt at all.

  2. The mattress must be soft but not too soft.

  3. I test softness and strength with my feet, never fingers or hand because there should be enough weight behind my movements.

  4. I look for a slope of approximately 4 percent (either in the mattress or
    the floor).

  5. I basically imagine that I’m a cow. I think about a cow’s bodyweight and needs.

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